Sunday, February 17, 2019

6. Formative incidents in my early acupuncture life: Lessons from the master, JR Worsley (1)

When I am teaching, a question I am asked often serves to remind me of some important incident which took place during my training or my early years as a practitioner, which I now know set me thinking quite differently about my practice.  Each of these incidents proved a catalyst, opening up new directions to my thoughts.  I am surprised to find how many such important events have occurred in my acupuncture life, and appreciate now that without them I would not have made the often unconventional detours I did.  Much of my development as a five element acupuncturist, and reflected now in my writings, has been based on what could be considered the rather unconventional approach I have adopted when measured against that of many of my peers.

I have often thought that the tone was firmly set early on when I was asked to teach an evening class about acupuncture at a London evening institute at a time well before complementary practices were in such common use as they are today.  This was also when I had only just qualified.  It meant that I was free to develop my own thoughts about my practice unhampered by others, since there weren’t any others around doing what I was doing.  I found myself talking about five element acupuncture to a very wide range of lay people, and therefore had to couch my thoughts in very general terms, rather than assume that my audience and I spoke the common language familiar to all acupuncturists.  I taught at several of these institutes during the first few years of my practice, allowing the differing groups of people who came to my classes to influence how I expressed myself and how far what I was learning from my practice could be translated into a language they could all understand, from the builder, the retired postman, the young student, the bank clerk and the unemployed people who crowded into my classes evening after evening.

This allowed me a freedom to be cherished, something I did not realise until later, for I was able to develop my own ideas quite independently of other professional acupuncturists, and quite unhampered or inhibited by opinions about the practice of acupuncture which might well have differed from mine.  When I rejoined my fellow acupuncturists two years later as part of my first advanced training course under JR Worsley, I brought the often rather odd ideas I had developed into my time with him, a time which proved to be the most exhilarating of all my years of acupuncture training.  It also proved to be a time of heightened tension in the five element world as it coincided with JR Worsley’s own fight to keep the college he had nurtured so carefully for the past 20 years untainted by the introduction of other less traditional forms of acupuncture as he felt strongly it would be.  Eventually he lost this fight and had to resign, and this led almost directly to my starting the School of Five Element Acupuncture (SOFEA) with the express intention of continuing his work of spreading the practice of this branch of acupuncture, and often, to my delight, with his active support.

I took every opportunity I could to observe JR in his interactions with patients, and was fortunate that the time of my postgraduate training with him coincided with his last years at Leamington. There was therefore a rather febrile atmosphere at the Leamington college during my last years there, with acupuncturists lining up on one side or the other of unfortunately an increasingly hostile divide.  Sensing this, I made every effort to stay as close to JR as I could, attending all his seminars and taking many patients to private consultations with him.  I view these few final years at Leamington as forming my own personal apprenticeship to the master of five element acupuncture.

It was during this period of intense activity that I experienced many of the seminal moments which have set my acupuncture practice on such a fulfilling course.  In particular I am now enjoying reliving some of the profound lessons I learnt when studying with JR. The first of these occurred when I was sitting in the classroom at the Leamington college during a lunch break watching a video of JR with a patient, in which he was asking the young patient a question.  I remember her looking puzzled, thinking for a minute, and then saying, “I’m not sure how to answer that”.  Unnoticed by me, JR had come into the classroom, and was standing behind me.  I heard him murmur, “Only a II CF would say that”.  Translated into the acupuncture language in common use now this meant that only a Fire person who was Inner Fire (the Small Intestine is given the Roman numeral II in five element acupuncture) would express herself in those terms.  Not only did this teach me a lot about the distinctions to be made between Outer Fire’s much more articulate responses to a question and Inner Fire’s verbal hesitancy as it tries to sort its thoughts out, it also taught me a lot about myself, and has continued to do so over the years, for it has made me, an Inner Fire person, so much clearer to myself.  So, I asked myself, was this the way I respond to questions, with the initial brief air of puzzlement this patient showed, before finally deciding on an answer to give which satisfies the Small Intestine’s need to pass only what is pure on to the Heart?  Now, whenever I try to work out whether a person’s Fire element is that of Inner or Outer Fire, I always draw on the image of this girl’s puzzled face to help me decide.

One of the tips I also learnt from JR Worsley, which I have followed successfully ever since in all cases where my relationship to my patient is under some strain, is always to be honest with the patient, and tell them as soon as I sense that there is a problem.  You need to be brave enough to ask them whether they, too, feel that this is so.  I always preface what I say with the words, “I feel that ….”  Saying this removes any risk of the patient feeling that we are blaming them for what is not right, and gives them the courage to be open with us.  I am then often surprised by my patients’ answers, which may be quite different from what I have imagined.  This frankness between us goes a long way to solving some of the tricky patient/practitioner issues which complicate our work.

For treatment to be successful it is always essential that both patient and practitioner are equally involved, 50% the patient and 50% the practitioner.  We cannot do good work if we are not sure what is going on in the practice room.  It is therefore good to remember that we can never help a patient who is reluctant to receive treatment.  As soon as we sense this, we need to stop what we are doing and address the issue.   

 

 

 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

5. Two further incidents confirming my belief in the forces we can draw upon in treatment

Both of these two cases concerned two very ill patients of mine, each, because of the severity of their condition, unable to talk easily to me to help me make my initial diagnosis.  The first was a friend’s mother, who was in a very advanced stage of bone cancer, in great pain and with a body with many tumours.  I really didn’t know how I could help her, but was determined to do something.  She was lying in bed, and severe back pain prevented much movement.  This was obviously not the time to carry out even the most cursory diagnosis, and I had prepared myself for this by asking my friend beforehand to describe her mother to me in as much detail as she could.  From this I gained the impression that she might be Earth, something reinforced by the yellow colour I thought I could see on her skin, although I did wonder how far this rather unhealthy yellow was not so much an accurate pointer to Earth but the result of her illness. 

She could hardly move, but her daughter and I managed to prop her up sufficiently for me to put needles in the three upper series of points for the AE drain (Lung, Heart Protector and Heart), where a great deal of Aggressive Energy appeared as angry red circles around all six needles.  I could only hope that there was no further AE on points lower down the back which I could not reach.  As the AE drained, I was amazed to see that the patient’s initially very burnt-looking back caused by so much radiotherapy treatment gradually lots its angry red and returned to a good, clear skin colour.  After this, I cleared a Husband/Wife block, and ended with Earth source points.

When I had finished the treatment, the patient looked much more peaceful and less distressed.  I tucked her up with a kiss, and went downstairs, leaving her daughter to sit with her.  About half-an-hour later, to my surprise, my friend walked into the kitchen where I was sitting with the rest of the family, saying, “Mum is coming downstairs behind me.”  She told me that her mother had not been able to stand on her own for the past few weeks, but now felt strong enough to join us.  My friend said that this was also the first time that she had seen her mother smile for a long time.  And there was her mother slowly walking towards us.

I continued to treat the patient, and from that point onwards until her death six months later her spirit never faltered, even though it was obvious to all that she had not many more months to live.  This was a very moving experience for me, because it showed me so clearly that my acupuncture treatment could help a patient cope so much better even with a life-threatening disease and even in the last few months of life.  

The second instance of what I learnt from treating a very ill patient occurred at much the same time, when I was asked to go to hospital to treat a man who had just suffered a very severe stroke.  Again the patient was too ill to talk, but I did the best I could to make a diagnosis with all my senses on full alert.  He had been propped up in a wheelchair, so I was able to take his pulses, but he could not be moved sufficiently for me to do an AE drain.  Those were the days when the thorough early training I had received had inculcated into me a rigid adherence to taking all the preliminary steps we had to take before the first treatment.  Even in such a serious case, I thought that I should do the Akabane test, particularly as I thought this might show some significant readings because there had been such a severe left-sided stroke.

Carrying out the Akabane test was not easy, although easier on the hands than on the feet which were on the footrest of his wheelchair.  By dint of kneeling on the floor I managed to do the reading on all the meridians, but when correcting the block had to be careful to make sure that the lighted moxa stick did not burn my patient, because he only nodded slightly or blinked an eye to show me when he felt the heat.  To my surprise every single Akabane reading was out, with excess readings all on one side and almost no reaction at all on the other side.  I assumed that this was the effect of the stroke.  So I set about correcting them as best as I could, remembering that we were told that often correcting just one meridian’s imbalance would be likely to correct any others that were out of balance.  And this is what happened.  By this time I  thought that he might well be Metal (from the strong Metal smell and his colour), so decided to correct the Lung and Large Intestine Akabanes first, to offer immediate help to his Metal element in this way.  After having done this, I re-checked the other Akabane readings, and found that they had indeed returned almost to normal, with much less discrepancy between the two sides.  I also corrected a Husband/Wife imbalance I found, something I imagine may often be the result of a severe stroke (the Heart under attack), and I completed the treatment with the Metal source points.  When I had finished I was delighted when my patient suddenly said, “I feel better now”.  When I had first seen him, I had thought he was very close to death.  Now I no longer felt this.

The treatments of these two patients confirmed for me the simplicity of the five element protocols I had been taught.  It was good see how the elements responded so powerfully to the simplest of treatments, and confirmed for me what JR Worsley had often emphasized, that to treat an element it would be enough to needle its source points again and again, and we would achieve the same results “only perhaps it would take just a little longer” than if we moved on to more complex element points.

What I learned from these two treatments also convinced me that the urgency of helping a very sick patient feeds some power with us, which can raise what we do to another level.  I did not think it was a coincidence that I had somehow been led to home in on the right elements and choose the right treatments.  The words, a practitioner’s intention, are bandied about rather too blithely, but I do think that if we are focussing all our attention upon trying to help somebody, our heightened senses may well be guiding us to select the right treatment.  At least this is what I have learned.

This also reminds me of the time when a young practitioner friend of mine told me sadly, “I use the same points as you do, but I don’t seem to get the same results.”  I puzzled about this for a time, but eventually realised that he and I had a very different approach to our practice.  I was totally convinced of the power of what five element acupuncture could achieve.  He doubted it, and eventually moved on to practising another kind of more physically based acupuncture.  His doubts must have conveyed themselves to the treatment he was giving, whereas I came to realise my absolute conviction added power to the treatments I gave.  This was another of those profound lessons my practice taught me which have have stayed with me to support me over the years.

 

 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

4. Important milestones in my five element life

An experience in my early acupuncture life had a long-lasting effect upon me, because it brought me face to face with an area of life which until then I would probably have denied existed or would even have ridiculed.  These were very early days in my practice and I was still a very uncertain practitioner, often unsure of what I was doing.  I doubt if I had treated the condition we call a Husband/Wife imbalance on my own before then, and found myself faced with diagnosing a case obvious enough from the pulse picture and my patient’s distress for me to be certain that this block was there.  At the time I had the mistaken idea, culled from I know not where, that it would be dangerous on a Metal patient, as this patient was, to do the part of the treatment which required me to transfer energy from Metal to Water (the Water tonification points) to help re-establish the smooth flow of energy from the pulses of the right hand to those of the left hand.  I felt that this would be going against the principle that we always need to strengthen the pulses of the guardian element, in this case, the Metal element.  In fact the rule is always to treat the Husband/Wife imbalance, whatever the patient’s element is, and then continue treatment with the source points of the chosen element, whichever that is.

I remember freaking out a little, wondering if I would be doing the patient harm by needling these points, so calmed myself by very slowly marking the points whilst trying to gather my thoughts.  I had forgotten that I had given my patient a copy of JR Worsley’s Talking about Acupuncture in New York in which he mentions the importance of treating this block.  As my fingers felt for the points to locate them before needling, she suddenly said, unprompted and after a few moments of silence, “That sounds like quite a dangerous thing that Husband/Wife imbalance your Professor writes about in his book.”  I remember sending up silent thanks to the good lord of acupuncture hovering over me, and with a sigh of relief, carried out the treatment and cleared the block, emboldened now by my patient’s unconscious confirmation that it needed to be done.  She never mentioned JR’s book again to me afterwards in all the many further treatments I gave her. 

I have always asked myself what had moved her to help me in this way.  And this proved to be the first of many examples of the power of the often hidden forces which can stir the elements to life through connections set up by something as apparently simple as stimulating the points as I mark them, or, as here, some unconscious request I must have been sending out for help in dealing with a difficult treatment situation.  I have found that, at other difficult times in my practice, help has surprisingly been forthcoming in odd ways, as though I somehow offer up a prayer for help to whatever powers rule the universe and summon an answer when I feel an answer is desperately needed, as in the case of this patient.

This is when the rational part of me, nurtured since childhood in the atmosphere of an agnostic family with no particular interest in spiritual matters, and with an unshakable trust in the power of orthodox medicine to heal, for the first time encountered something I could find no rational explanation for.  And yet my family had been prepared to welcome a rather odd cuckoo into their nest, an eminent astrologer whose writings I later learnt were evidence of a belief in much esoteric thought.  So perhaps there was something in the atmosphere at home that prepared the ground for my growing realisation that somehow my practice of acupuncture had the potential to tap into forces in the universe which lay beyond my experience so far.  The incident with my patient with a Husband/Wife imbalance first alerted me to this.  What had made her mention JR’s words about Husband/Wife at the very moment when I was unsure what to do?  I don’t really know the answer to this, but the feeling that my acupuncture practice stirs into life forces so far unknown to me or ignored by me has grown increasingly strong with my years of practice.